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Maintaining contact between birth and adoptive families

Grandparents playing with a child at a celebration with balloons

It is really important for adoptive families to maintain contact with birth families. Research, including one report from Child Welfare Information Gateway, shows that this benefits children in many ways. We’ve also heard about the importance of maintaining contact from adults who were adopted as children and teenagers.

To help adoptive parents understand the benefits, Courtney McIntyre lends her experience as an adoption social worker in this article. She has come across many birth and adoptive families in North Carolina who have successfully formed connections. 

Benefits to the child

Your child will experience the benefits of having some form of contact with their birth family, even if contact is not consistent or routine. These benefits include the following:

  • Lowers anxiety by having access to information: “One thing that I’ve noticed is that kids never stop thinking about their birth families,” Courtney explains. Children and youth will have questions. When they have information, this lessens their anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. 
  • Allows your child to understand their history: The birth family is part of a child’s history. In addition to emotional belonging, there are many ways that knowing a child’s history is helpful, such as in accessing their medical background. 
  • Leads to higher self-esteem: When birth families aren’t in the picture and aren’t talked about, children often wonder what is wrong with their birth parents. From there, it’s easy to jump to thoughts like, “Is there something wrong with me, too?” Maintaining contact can prevent such feelings and thoughts. 

Addressing potential concerns from parents

Having established these benefits, you may still have questions. During her career, Courtney has heard concerns from adoptive parents about forming relationships with birth families. She discusses these below. 

  • I want to maintain authority: You may feel intimidated by the relationship your child would have with their birth parents. But, Courtney assures you, you’ll remain the parental figure. 
  • I’m concerned that the birth parents may not be in a stable place: You can determine whether a birth parent is experiencing instability by keeping in contact. There are, in the vast majority of cases, periods of stability for everyone. As Courtney explains, “There are always positives: strive to find them and maximize them.”
  • We are unable to have in-person visits. Should we stop there?: It’s best to maintain some kind of contact, such as through emails, letters, and social networks. 
  • My child is young, and I’m planning not to tell them they are adopted. So, maintaining contact isn’t possible: “Studies have shown kids do better whenever they know the truth,” Courtney explains. See Child Welfare Information Gateway’s resources for talking to your child about adoption

Strategies for maintaining contact

“You can be creative. The biggest part is just making that effort to have some kind of positive connection,” Courtney says. 

Consider creating an agreement to meet quarterly or yearly, depending on what is possible in terms of travel and other logistics. Try to plan visits around a child’s birthday or a holiday. You can do activities that the child enjoys, like going to the park or the zoo. 

There are ways to keep contact in addition to in-person visits: 

  • Connect over social media, in group chats, or through email.
  • Put pictures of the birth parents in a child’s room and in their life book.
  • Create a blog where you add updates and the birth family can post pictures and updates as well.

Finally, some states have post-adoption social workers who can actually help you maintain contact! 

Final thoughts

Maintaining contact with birth families is important to a child’s sense of belonging and well-being. And there are a lot of approaches that can work, depending on your family’s circumstances. The important thing is to try. As Courtney says, “This is such an important piece of adoption, especially from foster care.” She adds, “These kids’ previous histories don’t just end when you step into the picture. The birth family is part of who your child is.”